The FAST® Program is built on a number of social work, social justice, and community organizing theories that recognize the inseparable relationship between a child and their family and community.
Family Stress Theory
Family stress theory explores the periodic, acute stressors that happen to all families (Hill, 1949). When stressors become frequent, families can experience crises, but protective variables, such as hope and social support, guard against destructive behaviors. FAST helps families manage stressors by introducing rituals designed to strengthen bonds within and between families. In addition, FAST fosters the development of supportive relationships that provide a social “safety net” for stressed families. (McCubbin & Patterson, 1983)
Social Ecological Theory
Social ecological theory suggests that children develop in a multi-layered “ecosystem” that supports their ability to bond, first with parents, then with family, followed by school and society (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Parents’ roles as family leaders are emphasized, relationships are created within and between families, and social capital is built. Central to this theory is the use of relationships to create accountability structures. FAST is designed to support parents’ role as family leaders, create relationships within and between families, and build social capital between families, schools and the community.
Social capital is the concrete value of relationships, which help families gain access to needed resources (Coleman, 1988). As people gain social capital, they gain power, leading to more resources and social support, which serve as buffers against the chronic stress felt by those living in poverty. FAST builds social capital by connecting people and building trusting relationships. In this environment, social isolation declines and mutual support within and between families flourishes. From this foundation, shared positive values arise naturally from the community. (Bourdieu, 1986; Pretty & Ward, 2001; Putnam, 2000)
Family Systems Theory
Family systems theory is a theory of human behavior that defines the family unit as a complex social system in which members interact to influence each other’s behavior. Researchers have demonstrated that certain positive actions in everyday lives can help support thriving children; these activities and norms become buffers and resiliency factors for stresses that can cause insecurity and sudden instability. Some of the activities of well-functioning family systems include: Parental empowerment; Play and nonverbal communication; Meal rituals and hospitality; Trust in the wisdom and decision of parents; Family pride; and Personal expression within the family. These building blocks are used extensively in the FAST Program; every FAST Session provides many opportunities for parents to learn and practice positive behaviors that help to establish healthy new relational patterns within families. (Alexander & Parsons, 1982; Minuchin, 1974; Satir et al., 1991)
Parent empowerment is a core concept of the FAST program, along with the conviction that parents are capable of being the primary teachers and nurturers for their own children. By empowering parents, FAST builds trust between schools and marginalized communities and provides children and families with protective factors and a strong social network. Through experience and subtle coaching, newly empowered parents gain the skills and confidence they need to guide and motivate their children while reducing conflict. In turn, their children feel empowered and secure, which enhances their ability to do well in school and in relationships. (Dunst et al., 1988)
Community development theory sees community members as experts in their own lives and communities, and values community knowledge and expertise. When people are connected to neighbors and friends, they become accountable to each other and depend upon one another as a base of mutual support. FAST systematically builds these connections by involving families in evidence-based practices that build understanding, trust and the willingness to give and receive assistance. FAST engages families in their children’s education and builds bonds between parents and schools that result in increased parental involvement. (Walzer et al., 2016)
Brain Development Research
Brain development research helps us understand why and how children’s early experiences greatly influence their lifelong capabilities and behaviors. We now have a clearer understanding of the impact of early life experiences on a child’s ability to learn, develop healthy relationships, and eventually lead a productive, fulfilling life. FAST is designed to provide repeated, emotionally engaging experiences for children and parents that strengthen the love, respect and support within families. In essence, FAST builds the healthy family bonds that help build healthy brains. (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000)
Risk & Resiliency
Risk factors can be seen as variables that, when present, cause families to experience more stress, which in turn can contribute to children making unwise, unhealthy choices. Resiliency factors allow children to regain a sense of security and enable them to cope with the inevitable and external risk factors that families face. FAST introduces compensatory resiliency factors to guide and defend young people as they mature. (Kogan, 1978; Belle, 1990; Lewis et al., 1976)
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including experiences of abuse, neglect, and trauma, have been linked to a range of negative outcomes related to children’s health and well-being. As the number of ACEs increase for any given child, the risks for these outcomes also increases. By focusing on protective factors encompassing the child’s interpersonal bonds, the family system, parent-to-parent support, parent peer social network, parent empowerment, and school/community affiliation, FAST intentionally aims to build and strengthen defenses against ACEs. (Felitti et al., 1998; Gilbert et al., 2015; Merrick et al., 2018)